British Columbia

Recreation groups slam provincial plan to turn 67 km of Kootenay trail into road

Recreation groups are criticizing a plan by the B.C. government to turn a 67-kilometre section of Canada's Great Trail in the Kootenays into a road.

Plan to fully open up section of Great Trail to vehicles is 'step backward': Trails Society of B.C.

The rail-grade stretch of trail runs along Arrow Lake and includes a kilometre-long tunnel. (Trails Society of BC)

Recreation groups are criticizing a plan by the B.C. government to turn a 67-kilometre section of Canada's Great Trail in the Kootenays into a road.

The Trails Society of B.C. says the Ministry of Forests and Lands has put a plan out for public input to cancel recreational trail designation for the stretch of a former rail line between Castlegar and Christina Lake.

"Turning this rail trail into a road is a step backward for the many B.C. residents who enjoy cycling, walking and rolling for recreation," says Ciel Sander, board president of the Trails Society of B.C.

"Already residents are having difficulty finding high-quality hiking trails in B.C. They instead are often flying to Europe, the U.S.A. or other provinces for their cycling holidays."

Sander says it's a historic and beautiful section of The Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail. 

Winding above Arrow Lake near Castlegar before heading west toward Christina Lake, it's a raised, rail-grade trail with rebuilt trestles and the kilometre-long Bulldog Tunnel, the site of an explosion that killed Doukhobor leader Peter Verigin and eight others in 1924. 

Vehicles already use the trail

Sander says the trail has already suffered from vehicles using it, with locals often driving off-road vehicles, motorbikes, cars and trucks along it. The trail has dozens of homes and recreation properties adjacent to it. 

"The trail has been overrun with motorized vehicles destroying the surface, making dangerous and difficult to cycle and walk on. People have been gaining off-road vehicle access to these rail trails in addition to driving trucks and cars, displacing active trail users," says Sander.

In a letter to the society, the ministry's John Hawkings, director of Recreation Sites and Trails B.C., outlines the province's proposal to give the section of trail a new designation.

"There is significant use of the rail grade by on-highway vehicles by both the public and industry. The proposed change reflects local interests and supports access for industrial activity," Hawkings wrote.

"The province does not expect that this administrative change would impact the Great Trail designation — many sections of The Great Trail across Canada are composed of segments of roadway," he added.

The Great Trail's national organization is urging outdoor enthusiasts to rally against the B.C. government's proposal. 

"Cyclists and hikers will have to be on high alert when they use the trail and that is not an experience we believe is appropriate or pleasant for anyone," says Jeremie Gabourg, vice-president of communications for The Great Trail.

The province has opened the proposed change to public comment until Aug. 26.

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